Kaiju Ken Interview
Interview by Andy B. (kaijukorner.blogspot.com )
Translation by Yukie and Gordon Thrift
Kaiju Ken is a mainstay on the indie toy circuit. The outfit, which focuses on making “standard size” (about 8” tall) toys, frequently exhibits at shows like Wonder Festival and Super Festival. Abe Toru, one of the members of the Kaiju Ken team, kindly took a few minutes to talk with me about the company’s toys and recent changes in the indie toy scene.
MAT: Abe-san, thank you very much for your time. Please introduce Kaiju Ken and talk about how the company was started.
Toru: My start at Kaiju Ken came about through a friend who told me that a company called Kaiju Ken was looking for a prototype modeler. This friend introduced me to Kaiju Ken, and I started prototyping for them.
You focus on toys based on tokusatsu shows. How many different characters have you made? What are some of them?
I’ve made 13 tokusatsu characters. I’ve concentrated on Red Baron, Mach Baron, Silver Mask, and Ultraman.
How difficult is it to obtain a license to make these toys?
The president of Kaiju Ken negotiates licensing. If he can’t make time to do the negotiating himself, I go in his place. Negotiating for a new property is very difficult.
What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the toy making process?
The most difficult part of the process is the wax and painting. The wax stage involves making a prototype of the model out of wax. I am the person responsible for coordinating the painting of the production models. This is very difficult.
Is toy making your full-time profession?
I do not only work for Kaiju Ken. I also work for Medicom Toy and other independent toy makers creating prototypes. I also do freelance prototyping.
Many collectors are familiar with toys from big companies like Bandai. Do you feel that you are competing against the larger companies? Or do you focus on appealing to a niche market?
I don’t think I’m competing with the large toy companies. I only focus on doing what I can do. I let others decide if I’ve done well or not. I have no interest in marketing to large or niche markets. That people enjoy my work is the most important thing for me.
What are the big differences between the indie toys that are made now and the sofubi toys that were made in the 1970s by companies such as Popy?
In the old days, kaiju figures were made not by kaiju makers but by doll makers. Probably they had no interest in kaiju. Today, fans make sofubi figures. We love kaiju. I think this is the biggest difference between the toys of now and then – whether the makers care about the characters they are modeling. I believe that the customers like the care we take in making toys now.
You’ve been making sofubi toys for a long time. Over the years, what big changes in the indie sofubi market have you seen?
I think the world of the indie maker is changing a lot right now. Indie toy prices were so high but have steadily leveled out of late. I also feel that at the same time as the number of overall fans is trending downward, the people who think of toys as investments are also disappearing. As a result, true fans have more of a chance to buy the toys. I think this is a great development. I’m also happy that we have fans overseas. It is important for us in Japan to think of markets overseas, not just the domestic market.
You frequently bring your toys to shows like Super Festival. The show is still strong. However, in recent years, many other shows in Japan have disappeared. In your opinion, why has that happened?
It is a real shame that the number of toy shows is decreasing. It shows the extent to which the Japanese interest in toys is dimming, and from here on out it will decline even more. Japanese youth don’t really spend a lot of money. It’s really important for us involved to stir things up and make toy shows more exciting.
Besides attending shows, how can toy collectors purchase your toys?
If overseas collectors want to buy Japanese sofubi toys they should contact a toyshop here and ask them to act as a proxy buyer. It is likely in most circumstances that licensed toys cannot be sold overseas. Also it is difficult for small makers to answer orders from overseas. I think toy shops that do sell overseas are likely to be willing to act as proxy buyers.
What goals and future plans do you have for Kaiju Ken?
From here I think Kaiju Ken would like to manufacture more obscure Red Baron and Ultraman characters. Additionally, we are in the middle of planning some Iron King figures.
Thank you very much, Abe-san!
I am really happy knowing that there are Kaiju Ken fans around the world! Thank you very much!